Interview: Hans Meyer - co-founder, Zoku

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When did you have the original idea for Zoku, and what prompted the live/work space idea?

"Early in 2009, I started the creation of the Zoku concept, a few years after I left citizenM as initial creator and founding partner. Marc Jongerius, previously partner in the private equity industry, joined at the end of 2010 with a shared desire and vision to create Zoku, combining living and working in the same space. We see personal and professional lifestyles are changing, boundaries between work and leisure are fading and people are more mobile than ever. Enabled by new technology, work is no longer restricted to a single physical place or the traditional office. Older generations are used to strict separations between business and leisure. The mentality of younger generations moves towards mixing business with leisure.  We decided to create an entirely new concept around this societal change."

When designing the Zoku loft did you take a traditional hotel room concept and adapt it or start from scratch? Did you use design companies from the hospitality space?

"We're fully focused on enriching people's lives while living and working abroad and this doesn't resonate with starting with existing products. We started with extensive research (150 interviews and help of trend forecasting agency The Future Laboratory) and we lived like our target audience for six months, while roaming the globe. Our aim was to really understand the needs, wants and frustrations of our target audience. Where traditional hoteliers start with a floor plan, we see this as our end station. We started with a blank canvas to define how we can create more value for our guests compared to industry alternatives. We defined and tested all functional elements that people would like to have in their private space to make their stay convenient, efficient and comfortable. After this we defined how we can integrate our guests' senses to make their stay memorable. Before going to the drawing board, we coined factors and ideas that would decrease the level of investment and lower costs. For the design, we collaborated with Concrete Amsterdam, who I also originally appointed for citizenM. But most importantly, the entire concept has been developed in close co-operation with our target audience, who extensively challenged us and tested all four prototypes."

You have spoken about the global nomads and millennial business travellers as a target audience - but in declaring the 'end of  the hotel room as we know it' you must expect that the appeal of Zoku will extend beyond this demographic. Do you think the concept will work across age and income ranges?

"Definitely. Demographics are nice for people to put other people in boxes. We believe more in mentalities, where certain characteristics are better represented in the Millennial Generation as for example the Baby Boomers. Millennials are far more international and enterepreneurial, mixing business with leisure and hooked 24/7 on their iPhones. But this doesn't stop with age. We know people in their sixties who are 'more millennial' than some people in their late twenties. With regards to income ranges, some people who evaluated our Zoku Loft have extensive travel budgets of up to 1,000 US dollars per night. They prefer to stay within Zoku instead of being alone in their large two-bedroom suites in Manhattan without any social contact whatsoever. Luxury is being redefined."

Zoku stresses the importance of social/communal spaces - most hotels/hostels that promote these areas to millennials have increasingly smaller rooms which almost force the guest to use the communal areas. With such a large and well appointed room, what will draw Zoku guests to socialise with their neighbours?

"Most hotels are geared towards shorter stays: one to a few nights. For short periods you're far too busy for socialising. This changes if people stay for longer periods. Missing their friends and families, they're looking for alternatives. One of the most important take-aways out of our research period is that for longer stays people feel often disconnected. This influences their general mental state, but also their work performance. Global nomads want a local social life. Everything within Zoku has been designed to create effortless connections and our community managers play a crucial role in this by actively supporting our guests by building their local social and business network. Sharing bread, cheese and wine is always more fun than eating/drinking on your own."

Your first property is opening in Amsterdam - which cities are you targeting next, and in an ideal world how many Zokus will be open in five and 10 years time?

"Yes, the first property is expected to open in Amsterdam in the fall of 2015. In the first phase of expansion, we are focusing on large European cities that have an extensive creative community, that are innovative and tolerant and that have a large international network. We are currently actively looking at sites in London, Paris, Copenhagen, Berlin, Barcelona and Zurich. Zoku can grow as fast as we have access to good inner-city locations and - bearing in mind the lead time for developing a hotel - in five years we aspire to have five Zokus and 15-20 in 10 years from now."

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